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How to Curate Photographic Exhibitions

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The responsibility for curating a photographic exhibition requires extensive knowledge of and a burning passion for the art form. A curator can be charged with creating a show for either a solo photographer or a group of artists. In addition, the curator may be selecting works for any number of venues, including a museum, a private gallery or a gallery affiliated with a university. Although there are different considerations depending on the type of exhibition and venue, the basic steps are universal.

Select a theme for the photographic exhibition that will generate excitement among potential viewers. Through the show the curator must commit to fulfilling the mission of the gallery. In most cases the preeminent goal involves enlightening, stimulating and entertaining attendees.

Solicit work from the local community and beyond. Again this process depends upon the type of exhibition. Networking with regional, national and international artists will dramatically increase the curator's ability to attract quality photographic work.

Maintain an open mind when selecting the photographs to include in the show. A curator has a responsibility to ignore any personal bias and, instead, opt for objectivity. In addition, according to Mark Haworth-Booth, photography curator for London's Victoria & Albert Museum, all curators "must look both ways, be sympathetic in two directions, (and) be loyal to the artist but also to the visitor."

Hang the selected works. The genre of photography will affect the display design. Effective lighting is also a critical factor in creating a successful show.

Publicize the photo exhibition. This part of the process should actually begin with the conception of the show. The intent of every curator is to generate significant attendance, so publicity is paramount to the event's success. In addition to publicity, plan an opening day/night reception to fete the exhibitors.

Cultivate knowledge concerning each stage of curating a photographic exhibit. A curator's involvement on every level will ensure excellence.


Learn all aspects of photography. Having extensive first-hand experience in creating images, knowing how a camera works and understanding the process of printing photos will cement your position as a recognized curator. In addition to the mechanics of photography, remain intimately familiar with the history of the art. Without this background, curators cannot fully judge the quality or creativity of submitted images.

Establish a working relationship with fellow curators and notable photographers, both stateside and international. Rely on your contacts to discuss exhibition ideas and trends in the field. Your efforts and subsequent knowledge will assist you in hanging a thoughtful and provocative exhibit.


  • Compared to painters or other fine artists, photographers often create a large volume of work. As a result, the task of selecting which items to include in an exhibit can be a lengthy process.
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